This hiker has been exploring the dense woods, pristine ponds and rolling ridges between the Kennebec River at Caratunk and Flagstaff Lake near Bigelow for quite a few years now, primarily via the Appalachian Trail.
The A.T. rambles from the river’s edge up to Pierce Pond, then over Bates Ridge to the Carry ponds. First East, then Middle, and then West Carry Pond. Finally, the trail snakes up and over the shoulder of Roundtop Mountain, descends to Long Falls Dam Road and ambles on to Flagstaff Lake.
I’m most familiar, I must say, with a 2-mile length of the A.T. between Sandy Stream and the north end of East Carry Pond, a section I’ve been maintaining for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club since 2004. I’m also pretty familiar with the 3.3 miles just south of my stretch, from Sandy Stream to the south end of West Carry Pond. My good friend Dana Thurston of Raymond has been taking good care of that piece of the A.T. since 1995.
In the grander scheme of the A.T. in Maine one might consider this rather unassuming section of trail as “flyover” country. Not much outstanding or special. But such is not the case, as solitude reigns in these parts, and so does understated scenic beauty in the form of the three wild, clear and clean ponds. And a whole lot of woods and not a lot of people.
I’ve spent many a fine hour, many an awesome day with chainsaw and clippers, fire rake and grub hoe, hand sledge and galvanized spikes, keeping the way clear and working to improve it. Sometimes with the good company of others, other times gleefully on my own, just me and the big woods.
The other thing about this 13-mile piece of geography is the history, specifically that of the Arnold Expedition of 1775. Benedict Arnold and his troops marched through here—it’s called the Great Carrying Place—on their way to seize the city of Quebec. That effort failed, of course, but many of Arnold’s other military endeavors over the next several years did not.
Even so, Arnold never got the recognition he was due and, giving the late 1700s version of the stiff middle finger, ended up switching sides and taking up with the British. And we know where that move got him, at least as far as the history books are concerned.
Speaking of history, Stephen Clark of Scarborough knows a heckuva lot about this particular chapter of it. He and his compatriots at the Arnold Expedition Historical Society have been hard at work in this area trying to restore Arnold’s route on the ground and turn it into an official trail that could be walked, the Great Carrying Place Portage Trail.
That effort has finally succeeded, and I wrote about it in a recent outdoors column in the Maine Sunday Telegram, “Hiking in Maine: Walking in the footsteps of a pre-traitorous Benedict Arnold.”
Clark has been tramping through the Maine woods for a whole lot longer than this hiker, that’s for sure, especially this section through the Great Carrying Place.
“I started on the A.T. project in 1953,” Clark told me when we spoke recently. “I’ve been involved with almost every aspect of the trail in Maine.”
Clark was a major player when it came time for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club to help relocate some 170 miles of the AT starting in 1979, after the National Park Service stepped in to help protect the AT corridor from Georgia to Maine through 14 states. In fact, Clark personally helped relocate the 30 miles of AT through the Great Carrying Place between the Kennebec and the Bigelows.
Clark has served as president of the MATC as well as its guidebook editor. He also authored the venerable “Katahdin: A Guide to Baxter Park & Katahdin.”
Talk about history? This gent is living history. And he’s still at with his work with the Arnold Expedition Historical Society and the re-creation and reopening of the Great Carrying Place Portage Trail.
The new (old?) trail makes a great day hike in short segments. You can tackle it all in a long day hike too, but best might be to break it up into an overnight journey, starting at the Kennebec River and backcountry camping at the AT lean-to at West Carry Pond before finishing up at Flagstaff Lake.
Clark’s new guide, “The Great Carrying Place Portage Trail,” will help you get from point A to point B, with nuggets of history sprinkled throughout.
For a more in-depth look at the history of the Arnold Expedition, you’ll definitely want Clark’s book that he published in 2003, “Following Their Footsteps: A Travel Guide & History of the 1775 Secret Expedition to Capture Quebec,” the only such guidebook in existence.
Clark’s travel guide is a treasure trove of information, with more than 125 pages of detailed history documented side-by-side with the relevant travel information for the route. From Cambridge MA to Quebec City, this wonderful guide will get you there, plus canoe routes, great appendices and a nice set of color maps.
Don’t expect this to be just another dry guidebook. Nope, it is eminently readable and highly interesting.
If you can’t get enough, and you didn’t read Kenneth Robert’s “Arundel” in grade school (or maybe you did but you can’t remember any of it), give it another go.
“’Arundel’ is the best starting place” for understanding the events of the Arnold Expedition,” noted Clark. “Arnold’s men kept excellent journals, which were collected and preserved. Robert’s other book, ‘March to Quebec,’ is a compilation of these journals.”
Proceeds from Clark’s trail guide to the Great Carrying Place Portage Trail and Arnold’s Wilderness March Map & Guide go to a good cause, that of the Arnold Expedition Historical Society and their work to reopen the one remaining portage, from the upper end of the Chain of Ponds to the Canadian border.